- According to new research, people with cancer who exercise during their chemotherapy treatments have less heart damage than those who don’t.
- Being physically active can also help improve symptoms like nausea and fatigue, and it can even improve survival rate.
While exercise is important for preventing certain diseases, it’s also crucial to continue doing it if you are diagnosed with them. According to new research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, people with cancer who exercise during their chemotherapy treatments have less heart damage than those who don’t.
The paper, which reviewed numerous previous studies and data on thousands of cancer patients, concluded that those who regularly incorporated aerobic and resistance training into their routines reported being less fatigued, feeling less pain and nausea, and having better overall physical function than those who were mostly sedentary.
What’s more, research points to a lower mortality rate among those who exercised during their treatment. One study even found that when those battling breast cancer got regular physical activity, they were less likely to relapse.
It also concluded that exercising during cancer treatment prevents heart damage—like left ventricle dysfunction (where the left side of the heart has to work harder to pump just as much blood) and heart failure, which can be caused by chemotherapy drugs.
The combination of inactivity plus chemotherapy drugs can weaken your muscles, according to the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association’s cardio-oncology rehabilitation (CORE) program.
By staying active, you can stave off some of that weakness. Plus, the paper also found that exercising during cancer treatment can improve peak aerobic fitness VO2, which is “the most significant surrogate markers of human health, longevity, and cardiovascular risk.”
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According to a 2018 study published in the journal Oncotarget, exercise can improve cancer-related pain possibly because it can help lower certain receptors linked to increasing pain and boost other receptors that help inhibit it.
Exercise—particularly respiratory muscle training, which can help relax the muscles that help you breathe, like your diaphragm, for instance—can prevent or decrease feelings of nausea, according to a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Cancer Care.
So what exactly should your exercise regimen look like if you’re receiving chemotherapy treatments? According to the paper, the current guidelines that recommend people to be as physically active as possible apply during cancer treatment, too.
That doesn’t mean you have to be exercising at your pretreatment level, though. Some exercise is better than no exercise at all—it comes down to what you’re physically able to do, said Flavio D’Ascenzi, M.D., lead study author, cardiologist, and assistant professor at the University of Siena.
“Most of the cancer patients can exercise even during the active phases of the disease,” he told Runner’s World. “However, a tailored approach to exercise and an individual exercise prescription is strongly recommended in order to obtain the best benefits while maintaining an adequate level of safety.”
Even with a tailored exercise prescription, he adds, some days your body feels better or worse than usual. Cancer patients and their doctors and trainers should work together each day to come up with modifications that fit that day’s needs.
With that said, the paper outlines a few general exercise rules that cancer patients can follow, if they can tolerate them:
- 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise or 75 to 150 min per week of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise.
- Two or more days per week of muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups.
- Two to three times per week of stretching.
- 30 to 60 minutes of respiratory muscle training—which strengthens the muscles that help you breathe, like your diaphragm—three times per week.
The bottom line? Those with cancer can benefit from getting some type of physical activity while undergoing treatment. Getting regular exercise can help improve symptoms like nausea and fatigue, heart function, and even survival rate.
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